With Two Pitches, Buyers See Double at TNT/TBS Upfront

Turner Broadcasting entertainment executives are emphasizing two messages in this year's upfront season—one painstakingly number-crunchy, one simple and direct.

The company's upfront presentation in New York last Tuesday distinguished between drama-oriented TNT and comedy-action TBS, which share one common element: growth. The major presentation focused on the ratings success of the two networks, which rank first and second, respectively, among cable nets in adults 18-49 and 25-54, or, as the newly christened chief operating officer of both nets, Steve Koonin, boasted, "every demo that matters." (Advertisers looking specifically for men, women or young adults might disagree.)

For the number-crunchers, the Turner folks argue that cable networks can be artfully and cheaply used to deliver the same "reach" as broadcast networks. That pitch involves computer modeling (called Turner's Multidimensional Analytical Platform), which is better-suited to small meetings with the most techie of media planners but boils down to one point the Turner slide show pushes: "Prime time broadcast-network television can be nothing more than an EXORBITANTLY PRICED FREQUENCY MEDIUM" (emphasis Turner's).

For the bigger presentation to buyers, Turner glitzed it up a bit with a closing performance by singer Norah Jones and the "cloning" of Koonin featuring his lookalike Wayne Knight, who played the character Newman in Seinfeld.
Koonin continued to push the company's campaign to keep ad buyers from considering the networks interchangeable. Two years ago, TBS and TNT were hard to tell apart, particularly since they pretty much shared windows for every major theatrical release Turner secured. Now TNT is looking to skew toward adults 25-54, emphasizing that "We Know Drama" and loading its schedule with hour off-net series like Law & Order, sports, and dramatic theatrical movies. (Current and upcoming movies include plenty of comedies, such as Rush Hour, Trading Places, The Wedding Planner, What Women Want, Forces of Nature
and a remake of Neil Simon comedy The Goodbye Girl.)

TNT is tempering its ambitions. After being burned in attempts to develop an hour dramatic series, it has no new shows slated and only eight original movies scheduled for next year.

TBS is still searching for branding but has made one big, surprisingly long commitment. The network extended its deal for a cable run of Seinfeld
through 2011 (that year, the comedian will be 57 years old, giving an indication of the show's presumed shelf-life) for a meaty price. The network will pay $800,000 an episode and barter two 30-second commercial spots for Sony Pictures Television to resell.

That's only slightly lower than the then-record $1 million TBS agreed to pay in 1998, even though the show is older and runs over and over in broadcast and cable syndication. But TBS wants a steady anchor for its prime time access "Nonstop Comedy Block," a 4:30-8 p.m. ET weekday lineup of off-network sitcoms, including Friends, The Drew Carey Show
and cable syndie disappointment Home Improvement.

TBS also revealed plans to start its first West Coast feed. Even though broadcast nets have offered different feeds for different time zones for decades, a handful of cable networks have avoided the $1.5 million or so annual expense and simply kept one feed.